Tuesday, 24 May 2011

That whole Ryan Giggs thing

Of late, the injunction taken by a Premiership Footballer - now revealed as Ryan Giggs - to hide his affair with a reality TV "star" has set a debate raging over free speech and privacy.

It goes without saying that I couldn't care who's shagging who in celebdom. It's the kind of non-story that dominates the news to distract from more pressing issues. Plus, when I do want detachment from reality I'd much rather watch something like Game of Thrones.

That said, when Giggs went beyond the press and tried to censor Twitter, it caught my attention. Firstly, it was a truly idiotic thing to do and it's little surprise that it backfired spectacularly. But that was also when it occurred that there may be broader consequences to it than a footballer trying to hide where his knob goes.

David Allen Green has put forward the best written argument for this being a privacy issue. In the New Statesman, he says that "the environment for the practical legal protection for personal privacy has changed" and that "this may not necessarily be for the better." However, I'm disinclined to agree with him. After all, for the victims of websites like Redwatch, or those subjected to trial by media - such as Chris Jeffries in the Joanna Yeates murder case or the original (innocent) suspects in the James Bulger trial, who were hounded out of their homes after the actual killers were arrested - this point has long since come and gone.

I'm more inclined to agree with Nat over at Forty Shades of Grey, who sums up why the worrying precedent was set not by those who violated the injunction, but by the one who sought it;
1) When you act like a selfish cunt and then selfishly go to get an injunction using s.8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, you're helping to develop this judge-made law further and have it apply to more and more situations, just to suit your needs. That's all well and good for you, but what about if the law that you helped extend is then used to censor something that undeniably is in the public interest - like the Trafigura case? Then people get hurt. People get really hurt. Not like 'my husband is porking a z-list celebrity' hurt, but physically hurt. And you helped that.

2) If you eventually do succeed in forcing Twitter to hand over the details of anonymous users that apparently broke your injunction, then (aside from it being insanely hypocritical) you've potentially made it so that Twitter can be forced by other companies and agencies to give out details, because of the whole 'judicial/persuasive precedent' thing. I'm going to assume that you were too busy bumping uglies with wannabes to pay attention to current affairs, but there's been a lot of civil uprising recently, and a lot of it has been brought to attention via Twitter. Now, if you get your way, and Twitter are forced to give up the details, what's to stop other agencies using it? What's to stop the government getting the details of everyone who talks about protests on Twitter and using the pre-arrest tactic more often? What's to stop governments that are a bit more torture-happy from getting details of protesters from Twitter?